TAIPEI – The smallest man on the floor emerged as the biggest player with the biggest heart when the championship of the 34th William Jones Cup basketball tournament was on the line.
L.A. Tenorio carried Smart Gilas-Pilipinas on his shoulders as the 5-foot-8 Alaska point guard scored 11 of his 20 points in the payoff period to rally back the Nationals from a 14-point deficit and nip 13-time champion United States, 76-75, to win the championship of the annual cagefest Sunday at the TPEC gym.
The heady point guard of Alaska fired seven straight points in a 10-0 spurt by the Nationals in the fourth quarter, before his jumper in the final 19 seconds proved to be the winning basket in the Nationals’ fourth Jones Cup title since 1981.
“I admit, we are already very tired,” Tenorio told the international media, noting the Nationals played eight games in the last nine days. “But like Michael Jordan said: ‘The heart never gets tired.”
“It was all heart for us out there,” he continued.
By finishing the tournament with a 7-1 (win-loss) record, Gilas kept itself out of reach in the single-round robin tournament and clinched the country's first title in 14 years in this tournament held in honor of the late former Fiba secretary-general.
The victory also represented the first significant achievement for a Philippine team in an international tournament since Tim Cone's Centennial Team won this event back in 1998.
Tenorio, adjudged the MVP of the week-long meet, also played big in Gilas' 76-72 win over Chinese-Taipei Saturday night, scoring all of his 11 points in the fourth period.
The Americans last held the lead on an uncontested basket by Jermaine Dearman underneath, 75-74, with 36 seconds left, before Tenorio made the game-winning jumper off a pick by Marcus Douthit..
In all, the country has now won the tournament four times counting the 1981 and 1985 victories of Northern Consolidated under coach Ron Jacobs.
The Philippines trailed by as large as 14 in the first half and by 13 late in the third quarter, only to dig deep within its resolve to pound out the thrilling win.
Clinching the crown with a win over the tough US team made Smart Gilas’ feat simply amazing.
“Before the game, we just said imagine the Philippines playing the US for the gold in a basketball game. I know it’s just a Jones Cup, an Asian level, but I don’t know if it’s gonna happen again in our lives. We said we take this opportunity,” said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, who became the first Filipino mentor to steer a Philippine team to the Jones Cup title.
As in their games against Japan, Korea and Iran, the Filipinos fought with a great resolve, coming from behind to pull the rug from under the athletic and quick Americans.
“This might be the weakest Philippine team, the least prepared, smallest. What it has got is a big heart,” said Reyes.
“Heart won it for us versus Japan, Korea, Iran and the US.These guys just don’t know the meaning of quit,” added Reyes who ruled the tourney with a 7-1 win-loss showing.
Iran, the 2007 and 2009 FIBA Asia champion, placed second at 6-2 with the US settling for the bronze at 5-3.